00:01: Friday now, and Conservative financial spokesman George Osborne is doing his best to claim the result is clear at least about one thing: Labout "can't continue in government." he says.
Labour Foreign Secretary David Milliband says the results are not in, but if no party has an absolute majority, the will of the people is that the parties talk to each other, and no party has a right to "a monopoly on power".
23:55: Labour wins in Sunderland Central, a seat the Conservatives were targetting as an outside chance. The Conservatives achieved a swing of almost 5 percent but it was not enough. A disappointment for them.
23:50: Brighton Goes Green? The Guardian's Peter Walker, a former AFP reporter I'm glad to say, reports from Brighton that the Green Party candidate Caroline Lucas is "quietly confident" she is on course to be elected in Brighton Pavillion constituency, becoming the first ever Green Party MP in Britain.
23:49: More discussion of problems for voters, unable to get into polling stations in different places around the country.
Labour's Harriet Harman says that the problems means some legal challenges may be laid to some results. And for once politicians from the Lib Dems and Conservative parties appear to agree. This is possibly going to be quite a big part of the election story.
23:30: No surprises in solidly-Labour Washington and Sunderland West, the second constituency to declare. Only 647 to go.
So far it is two out of two for Labour, but that picture is not likely to stay the same for long. Encouragingly for the Conservatives, the swing to them and away from Labour in the seat was over 11 percent, well over what was shown by the overall, nationwide exit poll.
23:16: The BBC revises its exit poll figures, based on late figures in. It now puts the Conservatives on 305, down two from first estimates, Labour on 255, and the Lib Dems on 61, two higher than the previous figures. All the figures are provisional, everyone says.
23:10: BBC television is showing a lot of scenes from round the country of frustrated would-be voters, queuing up outside polling stations, unable to get in to vote, such was the apparent turn out.
"It's an absolute disgrace," says a disgruntled David Dimbleby. It is also perhaps a sign of how high the interest was in the election.
23:07: The pound has fallen slightly in late trading on the foreign exchanges as the exit polls pointed to a hung parliament.
An hour after the exit polls came out, the pound dropped fell from 1.48 dollars to 1.47 dollars, and from from 1.17 euros to 1.16.
22:52: LABOUR'S Bridget Phillipson is the first MP returned to the House of Commons in 2010, with a majority of more than 10,000 seats over her Conservative rival in Houghton & Sunderland South - the first constituency to declare.
22:49: Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles tells ITV that the poll shows that "Labour have lost the election, they've lost any legitimacy." He does not claim the poll is a clear win for the Tories.
22:40: Broadcasters are displaying the results of the exit polls flashed up onto the walls of the House of Commons.
22:30: Lord Mandelson says something very interesting on the BBC, appearing to suggest that, if the results are as the poll predicts, Gordon Brown will try to stay on and try to form a coalition with the Lib Dems.
"The constitutional conventions are very clear. You know the rules. The rules are if it's a hung parliament it's not the party with the largest number of seats that has the first go. It's the sitting government."
22:21: Facing an apparent hung parliament, leading party spokesmen and women are already jostling to claim the meaning of the vote:
Tory education spokesman Michael Gove, a close ally of the Tory leader, speaking to the BBC, casts the vote as "a rejection of Gordon Brown and an embrace of the alternative arguments that have been put forward by David Cameron."
Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman hints at a possible alliance of interest with the Liberal Democrats, saying: "I think it will be clear that there's a genuine feeling that we need to change the voting system."
22:14: Who would have the authority to govern Britain, if this exit poll proves accurate? the BBC's David Dimbleby asks Lib Dem financial spokesman Vince Cable. "Well, nobody.." he says. "The Conservatives have fallen well short of a majority."
The poll was conducted for the BBC, ITV & Sky News, and interviewed 18,000 voters at 130 polling stations across the UK.
2205: The exit poll conducted by major TV stations predicts that the Conservatives will end the election with 307 seats, enough to govern as a minority government possibly, but still 19 short of an overall majority.
The poll announced as polling stations closed gave Labour 255 seats, and the Liberal Democrats 59 seats.
22:00: EXIT POLL give Conservatives 307 seats, Labour 255, Liberal Democrats 59, others 29.
21:50: So the polls close in 10 minutes. According to Press Association, David Cameron has spent a couple of hours today relaxing by "chopping logs" in his Oxfordshire home. An activity once favoured by 19th century Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone.
Gordon Brown had a light dinner with his wife Sarah - lamb stew apparently - and went for a nap. No word on Lib Dem Nick Clegg.
21:30: Only half an hour left for people to cast their ballots, and then at 10:00 p.m., the polling stations close and the TV stations will publish those exit polls: though see below to decide how much faith you think you should have in them.
20:45: Should we have much confidence in the exit polls, which TV stations will flash onscreen at 10:00 pm tonight?
In 2005, the exit polls predicted Labour's 66-seat majority correctly. The FT's main political blog this evening doubts it will be this accurate this time.
Among the reasons:
- One in six voters refuses to respond to exit polls
- Up to in five votes have been cast by postal ballot, most sent when Lib Dem support was higher
- The exit poll sample agreed by the broadcasters barely touches on Lib-Labour marginals (3 out of 120 polling stations surveyed)
- Boundary changes since 2005 make comparisons difficult
- Predicting what will happen, on the basis of exit polls conducted in a mad rush as people are still voting is always tricky.
If the FT is right, it may be a long night before we know the real result.
20:18: A BBC journalist, Martha Kearney, is reported to have tweeted confidence in the Tory camp. "Senior Tory tells me they have small overall majority," she reported. And added: "Labour campaign source tells me they think 310-320 for Cons; 280 for Lab. 71% turnout."
The tweets, reported by the Guardian news blog, appear now to have been pulled from the twitter site. Under BBC rules, its staff are not supposed to report vote projections on polling day, while voting continues.
19:40: Labour leader Gordon Brown has emerged, my colleague Paul Barber tells me, and is headed to his constituency party office to say thanks for the work of his team and prepare for the count later tonight.
More reports are coming in, meanwhile, suggesting a higher turnout than at recent elections. Good weather in most parts of the country is helping, it appears, with a little over two hours to go before polls close.
19:20: Manish Sood, the Labour candidate for North West Norfolk, who made headlines last week by declaring Gordon Brown the " worst prime minister" ever has announced he is not going to attend his own election count.
He admitted he has no chance of winning the seat, and said he thought he would not be welcome - even by those officially on his own side. "I've not had the support I was promised" by the party, he said. Any wonder why that would be?
18:55: With just over three hours left for voting, more celebrities have been out there, on Twitter and other sites, urging people to cast their ballots.
Tennis player Andy Murray, who is 23, was too young to vote at the last election, but did not miss this one. "Just voted for the first time. Pumped" he tweeted. (http://twitter.com/andy_murray).
Comedian John Cleese urged others to follow suit: "Vote!" he wrote.
Near record numbers of voters are reported to have been undecided ahead of the elections, and that clearly continued for celebrities too. "Right then," tweeted TV presenter Claudia Winkleman. "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe..." (http://twitter.com/ClaudiaWinkle).
1810: Less than four hours to go now before polls close across Britain, and, with people returning home from work, there's expected to be a rush to vote in many areas. Bookies Ladbrooks has slashed the odds on the turnout topping 70%, to 5/4 from 15/8.
17:42: After four weeks of hectic campaigning, the main party leaders all lay low on Thursday afternoon, resting up for a long night ahead, following the vote count into the early hours.
After voting on Thursday morning, Labour leader Gordon Brown was not expected to make any further public appearances before attending the count in his Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath count, his officials said. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said he planned to go for a country walk in his Sheffield Hallam constituency, while David Cameron return to his home in his Witney constituency, near Oxford.
16:45: One of the most high-profile users of Twitter in the campaign, Gordon Brown's wife Sarah, has signed off with her final campaign tweet, and blog.
"This morning we have already been out to vote," she said, adding that she had enjoyed travelling the country in the past four weeks, and, just for the avoidance of doubt, she had voted Labour. See the link here: http://www2.labour.org.uk/sarah
16:15: No official word on turnout as yet, of course, but several sites are reporting anecdotal evidence of higher turnout than in recent elections. The BBC says turnout in the village of Slad, in Gloucestershire, often hits 100%. Possibly not unrelated to the fact that the polling station is the village pub.
15:29: Celebs are out in force today casting their votes -- and mentioning it on Twitter. Besides Sir Ben Kingsley and Bob Hoskins who we spotted early this morning, other famous voters so far include comedians John Cleese and Eddie Izzard and TV host Sarah Beeny.
Cleese kept it simple with a one-word tweet. "Vote!", he urged.
Izzard, a well-known Labour supporter, also used his Twitter page to encourage citizens to get out and vote today. And fellow comedian Carr tweeted: "Went to vote & saw Alan Davies - they didn't have a VIP booth, I asked. Have you voted? You have to or you can't complain for 5 years."
Beeny said it took her until the very last minute to make up her mind in the polling booth: "have to admit still wasn't sure where to put the cross even with the pencil in hand!!" she wrote on Twitter.
David Mitchell, of Peep Show fame, tweeted that he was getting ready for Channel 4's election show tonight. "At least I'm not the only man bricking it in Britain today," he quipped.
1507: The BBC has some advice - courtesy of Nigel Tonkin, Westminster Council head of administrative services - for voters on what they can and cannot do in polling stations.
To summarise, he says, you can bring a child to the polling station, bring a pet, vote when tipsy (but not if completely inebriated), and can wear something covering your face so long as you agree to answer questions to prove your identity.
You cannot take a photo, film or interview people inside the polling station, play loud music, talk to fellow voters about the candidates, ask someone who they are voting for, or wear 'political clothing' that would intimidate other voters.
Pyjamas, Nigel says, "are fine, provided they're not indecent. And so is a builder who's stripped to the waist." But not, presumably, if they are a female builder. "A topless woman wouldn't be appropriate as voters might get distracted," he adds. The advice in full can be seen here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/election_2010/8661984.stm
14:45: Northamptonshire police at the scene of the plane crash involving former UKIP leader Nigel Farage (see earlier posts) say that both Farage and pilot Justin Adams are lucky to be alive. The plane ended up on its roof, upside down, but both men walked away from the crash.
"Looking at the wreckage behind me, I think you can make your own judgement as to how lucky they were," Detective Chief Inspector Martin Kinchin said. Farage's campaign manager said it appeared that a banner the plane was towing had become wrapped around the tail as it came in to land.
14:16: Some news from Wales and Scotland now.
Elsewhere, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond -- who is not actually standing again for the Westminster parliament after deciding to focus instead on Scotland's Holyrood -- voted in MacDuff, Banffshire.
13:58: With not much left to do besides wait for the election results, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg decided it was time for tea and cakes. He promptly invited the reporters that have followed him around on the campaign trail into his kitchen for a cupcake, the Press Association reported.
Clegg recently said that it was "not my home, it's yours" when challenged about his expenses claims.
13:17: More wacky polling places: people in Devon are casting their votes in a hairdresser's shop, while in Cornwall a tiny caravan has been converted into a poll booth. In a supermarket in Fulbourn, Cambridge, voters can combine casting their ballots with doing the weekly shop.
12:45: If Facebook votes counted, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg would appear to be home and dry already.
Clegg, whose party stood in second or even third place in the latest polls before voting began Thursday, got 42% of the vote in a Facebook poll for best prime minister, conducted May 1-3, way out in front of Tory leader David Cameron (31%), and Labour leader Gordon Brown (27%).
Another poll on Facebook, still underway on Thursday, looks even better for the Lib Dems, giving the party 36% of 29,000 online votes cast, against 17% for the Tories and 14% for Labour. Cheering news for Lib Dems, of course, but not a result they expect to see replicated in the 'real' election, where the Conservatives remain favourites and Labour is expected to place second in terms of seats at least.
12:15: Most of the attention in the elections is focusing, of course, on the major parties and their leaders. But many parties and surprising figures are on the ballot papers.
Some are publicity seekers. One candidate, challenging former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith in Chingford and Woodford Green, is keen for some degree of anonymity, however, the Press Association reports. He (it is apparently a 'he') is listed simply as: Surname: Above - Other names: None of the.
11:43: So all the major party leaders have now voted. In total, just over 44 million people are registered to vote in this election, with 649 seats in parliament up for grabs. Local polls are also taking place in some parts of the country.
Across Britain, turnout at the last election in 2005 was just over 61%, fractionally up on 59% who voted in 2001. Before those polls, turnout had never fallen below 70% in any election since 1945. Turnout could be crucial in this election.
11:31: The media are swarming all over Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam. Clegg has just cast his vote in his Sheffield constituency. His wife, who is Spanish, is not allowed to vote in the general election.
Smiling and talking with the press and constituents, Clegg said he was having "a very nice morning".
"I don't think my vote is a secret," he joked.
11:24: More of the party leaders have now voted. At the polling station near his Scottish home, a smiling Gordon and Sarah Brown cast their ballots. "Nice to see you," he shouted to reporters.
A polling official told the BBC that early turnout in Brown's constituency was considerably higher than at the last election in 2005. At the last election, Brown won his seat comfortably with 58.1% of the vote. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is also due to vote soon.
11:09: Boris Johnson, London's Tory mayor, was slightly more verbose. "I think we'll have a strong Conservative victory tonight and walking around London yesterday and today, I feel very strongly that the swing is on and the public are in the mood for change," he told reporters after cycling to his local polling station in Islington.
11:03: When asked how he was feeling after casting his vote, David Cameron told reporters: "Good, thanks. I am feeling good, I will leave it at that."
10:56: It didn't take long. Some, presumably anti-Tory, wits have taken the Sun's mock-up photo of David Cameron, styled as Barack Obama, and altered it to say: "Nope" instead of "Hope". It is doing the rounds on Twitter, and can be seen on http://www.twitpic.com/1lcq0v.
Mockery of campaign posters has been one of the features of this campaign.
10:43: Labour leader Gordon Brown is not far behind Cameron - in voting at least. He's due, with wife Sarah, at the polling station near his North Queensferry home in about 10 minutes, our reporter Paul tells us. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is preparing to vote too.
10:32: And yes, bang on cue, David and Samantha Cameron have arrived at the polling station in Witney, the first of the party leaders to vote. He was smiling, but did not talk to reporters on the way in. She was wearing a purple dress, and for those interested in the minutiae of tie-watch, he was clad with a green tie. Is there a 'Vote blue, go green' message there?
10:30: An update from my colleague Will Davies in Witney. The pranksters with the Eton banner have been brought down from the roof of the polling station. Perhaps David Cameron can be expected soon, then.
So far, voter turnout seems quite high, colleagues continue to report, but none of the party leaders have yet voted. The day's main shocking event so far is the crash involving UKIP former leader Nigel Farage.
10:26: A UKIP spokesman tells my colleague Alice Ritchie the party is very concerned about the condition of the plane's pilot (see 09:47) but Nigel Farage seems OK and that the party's campaign itself will continue. "We will continue as before but the campaign in Buckingham has had a bit of a hiatus," he said. Officials would not be saying more until the status of the pilot was confirmed.
10:18: It's a grey and drizzly morning in Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency too, says my colleague Thomas Walker. Coffee and bacon sandwiches are keeping the reporters going as they await the arrival of the Lib Dem leader, he adds.
10:15: More fun at the polling station in David Cameron's Witney constituency. The police tell our reporter they are getting in a specialist climbing team to tackle the pranksters on the roof. The roof is all of 2.5 metres high, our unimpressed reporter says. "We want to make sure the next prime minister is from Eton to get rid of the oiks who have ruined this country," one of the two men, who claims his name is Sebastian, shouts down to reporters.
09:50: It's freezing cold and raining in North Queensferry, Fife, where Gordon Brown lives, reports AFP's Paul Barber. The prime minister is expected to cast his vote there in the next half hour.
09:47: UKIP officials have told an AFP colleague the former party leader had been bloodied by the crash but was able to walk away from the crash site. The plane's pilot was more seriously hurt, they said. The plane had been flying a banner saying: "Vote for your country - Vote UKIP" reports said.
09:23: Reports said UKIP's former party leader Nigel Farage has suffered minor injuries in a light plane crash in Northamptonshire. Police confirmed to AFP reports of the crash, but declined to name those injured. Farage is running against House of Commons speaker John Bercow.
The restaurant section at the back of the pub has been converted for the day and dozens of people cast their vote soon after it opened for business at 7:00am. Some voters were performing their democratic duty while on the school run and dragged their children along with them.
08:40: A bungalow bedroom is doubling up as a polling station in a Cambridgeshire village. Retired hairdresser Carmelia Bond from Chettisham, near Ely, offered up her son's room because there was no other central place for locals to vote. "He's asked me to make sure that all the people going in there to vote wipe their feet," Bond told the Cambridge News.
08:15: In a stark reminder that the next prime minister will inherit deep economic problems, the FTSE 100 index opened down 1.27 percent at 5,274.03 points, as investors continue to fret over the Greek financial crisis.
08:04: Some online research tells me that Hoskins won't be voting Labour this time around. "Tony Blair sort of killed it for me," Hoskins told the Telegraph last month. "I am quite tempted by the Greens," he added, "but it is quite a leap."
07:57: It's all happening at Cameron's polling station. Now the Mirror's man-in-a-chicken-suit -- who followed Cameron around on the campaign trail -- has arrived at Spelsbury Memorial Hall.
Leon reports that there are long queues of people waiting to cast their votes here in this leafy part of north London.
07:44: The Mirror, which backs Labour, used its front page to highlight Cameron's privileged background, showing him in a photograph during his days at Oxford University, and urging: "Don't let Cam con you... vote Labour."
07:42: More excitement at Cameron's polling station. It seems two male pranksters have positioned themselves on the roof of the Spelsbury Memorial Hall drinking champagne and holding up a banner saying: "Britons - Know your place... Vote Eton, vote Tory".
07:40: The first celebrity voter has been spotted. AFP reporter Will Davies saw award-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley walk into a polling station in Witney, Oxfordshire -- which just so happens to be where David Cameron is expected to cast his vote later this morning. No word yet on who Kingsley plans to vote for.
07:32: In a last-ditch attempt to woo voters, The Sun's front page is carrying a full-page picture of David Cameron, mocked up in the style of the famous red, blue and yellow photo of Barack Obama , with the words "Our only hope".
07:30: AFP reporter Robert Leslie reports that the first person to vote at his local polling place in Sevenoaks, Kent, was a man in his thirties who arrived five seconds before the doors opened. As a commuter town, many of the Sevenoaks polling stations are expected to be busy this morning as people vote before going to work.
07:14: While most of us will be voting in a church hall or a school, some polling stations are a bit more unusual. The BBC have sent one of their reporters to a castle in Cornwall, and AFP will be joining voters in a pub in South Kensington later today.
07:00: Polling stations are open, here we go!
06:55: More than 40,000 polling stations around the country are readying to open in just a few minutes, and more than 44 million people are registered to vote in this closely-watched election.
The latest polls are still pointing to a hung parliament. The BBC's May 5 "Poll of Polls" puts the Conservatives ahead at 37%, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats both scoring 28% of the vote. So it looks like it might all depend on how the election plays out in the marginals...
06:50: Election Day has arrived. In a few minutes from now, at 07:00 UK time, polling stations will be opening around the country in what is set to be the closest election since the 1970s.
Economic troubles await whoever becomes the country's next prime minister, tasked with nurturing a fragile economic recovery and bringing down the national debt.
The three main contenders for Downing Street -- Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg -- will all be voting shortly. After a four-week campaign that, for the first time, featured live television debates between the main party leaders and raised the prospect of a hung parliament, all are calling for a high turnout.
Source: AFP European Edition